Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Milestones



I am currently in Guatemala, taking care of these 11 boys that have somehow managed to become like family to me. This Friday, two of them will be graduating from Junior High (Middle School) and I get to watch them walk across the stage and receive a piece of paper that marks quite an accomplishment in their lives. In Guatemala, where the majority of the population never get past 5th grade, I rejoice that these little boys of mine are en route to becoming professionals with a high level of education. One of them wants to be a mechanical engineer and has already picked out the college he wants to attend here in Guatemala. Looking back over this year, waking up these two guys everyday at 4:30 am to get ready for school, staying up with them as they worked on their incredible amounts of homework, taking them to tutor classes, soccer practices and other events, I am inspired by the DRIVE they have. Now, there were certainly days where they were PARKED, but it is beautiful to reflect and come to a simple  conclusion: they did it. One more step in this journey. 

More than educational milestones, I am also amazed at the ways they have matured. In small yet significant ways, I see these boys as more sensitive, more willing, more mature, more centered, more concerned and more loving. I want to say thank you to all who helped make this dream of higher levels of education a reality for these boys. Another one of the boys has done so well over the past two years that we are looking into the opportunity of getting him a scholarship at a college in Michigan. As I spoke with another mom who also has a 16 year old son that does extremely well in school, she said something that hit home with me: "As parents we just set the table, they are the ones who choose to sit an eat, and of course we know that God is the one who makes them hungry."  She said it as a way of humbling herself and portraying the fact that God allows us to share in victories that we really didn't have to invest very much in. This Friday, I will watch a simple graduation act with a lump in my throat and a smile as big as Texas: privileges that God allows me to have. For those who have invested in someone else's education, I applaud you as I see firsthand how much it transforms lives. For those who are thinking of how to help someone out, why not help give them skills that can radically impact lives by offering a quality education. Maybe if more people set the table, we would have more of these kids sitting down to eat.

 
It's not all studying at our house…FIFA 2014 Tournaments are quite frequent and can often get pretty intense. I know it's a close match when not one, but two of them are standing on the coffee table...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Connected

I wrote this on my plane ride to New Orleans, hours before Sophia and Hanna were born



As North Americans, we certainly do love our programs. We see some sort of need or problem and our forte has been to perfect a series of steps to detect, evaluate, assess and critique in order to respond, address and consequently provoke change. We hear about children dying of preventable diseases in Africa and we create sponsorship programs to meet a need. A rise in adolescent suicide rates? We create a catchy publicity endeavor and a 24-hour hotline to boot. Our kids have needs that we can’t meet? Church programs. We can’t lose weight? God bless Curves and Biggest Loser initiatives. Too much trash in Texas? We accoridnly all learned that we “DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS”. We love programs. Most often they are very appropriate and quite necessary. Considering this culture of programs that we have so efficiently and globally implemented, I have been thinking about the true needs that I see around me. Working with kids and youth at an orphanage, you are exposed to a wide variety of needs, and we have created and implemented effective and comprehensive programs. Yet herein lies my worry. Have we concluded that our universal response to the needs of this generation is to simply implement some sort of program?


As we draw close to a season of transition where we will no longer be in charge of this amazing house full of crazy boys, I think how I will no longer be the person that they come to for everything from advice about girls, trouble with trigonometry to getting a roll of toilet paper. It’s brought me to evaluate the way I have responded to the needs of these teenage boys. It has become easy for me to pinpoint their shortcomings even drawing conclusions about correlations of certain behaviours with specific psychological traumas they have experienced, yet how many times has my answer to these issues simply been to put them in some program and hope for the best? While thinking about all the practical implications of this struggle, the one word that resonates in my head and my heart as I consider all of this is simple: Connection. Authentic, unconditional, enduring and profound connection. What these boys ultimately need and have needed all along, is a connection with someone. It is now common knowledge that a baby bonds with the mother in developmentally critical ways in the first few years of life; likewise with the father and even with grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings etc.... As these children grow up and evolve we come to believe that an increase in maturity must equate an increase in involvement in excellent programs. We generally lose sight of what was once the most important aspect of their development. That connection. I am convinced that this connection continues to be the most important part. I have said this to many parents in many contexts and repeat it here (as my father has pointed out to me many of times, I can sometimes come across as excessively idealistic): In parenting there are no guarantees. It is not as if I could follow some set of steps or become involved in THE right programs or schools in order to guarantee the success of my children. But, in my experience in parenting teenage boys directly and indirectly over the past few years I have come to believe that we shouldn’t and cannot place our hope in this culture’s concept of success. On the contrary, I believe that success is quantified by the thing that our souls crave and ultimately need more than any other factor: that authentic connection. Simple, yet extremely complex. I believe that deep within us is a God-willed inlet purposed to be filled by human connection. I also believe that this inlet is mirrored by an even deeper and more rich need to be known by our creator and to come to know Him. So, as I sit on this plane, flying to meet my two baby girls who will apparently be making their debut in a few hours, I reflect upon this need for connection. To be connected to our creator and to be connected to others. And although there are minutes, hours, and well, even days when I don’t want to be in the same vicinity as these hormonal teenage boys let alone be connected to them, I ponder how our heavenly Father must feel about me sometimes! Regardless of the mess that I am, he remains connected. He remains close. I think we ought to do the same.